Rumors and conflicting reports are swirling out of Islamabad as to whether the sole Sunni nuclear power and one of the largest militaries in the Middle East will get involved in the growing conflict in Yemen. Reuters reports:
Pakistan will send troops to Saudi Arabia to give military support to a coalition of mainly Gulf states fighting Yemeni Houthi rebels, a senior government official said on Monday. […]
Pakistan’s Defence Minister Khawaj Asif denied that the country had made a decision to send troops to Saudi Arabia, saying a delegation led by him and foreign policy chief Sartaj Aziz, would go to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday and then decide.
On the one hand, the Pakistani government has been making the kind of calls for international, multilateral peace talks that usually indicate a desire to do nothing meaningful. And certainly all the official declarations from Islamabad late last week seemed to indicate a desire to preserve Pakistan’s neutrality in a proxy war between its large, aggressive neighbor (Iran) and one of its leading patrons and fellow Sunni powers (Saudi Arabia).
But Saudi Arabia didn’t send billions in aid to Pakistan for nothing, and it appears Riyadh has been insistent that Pakistan officially commits. To that end, a high-level Pakistani defense delegation winged its way to Riyadh. PM Nawaz Sharif reportedly offered the Saudi king “all potentials of the Pakistan army” in a telephone call over the weekend. And now this report has emerged—which, though officially denied, seems at least plausible given the circumstances.
We’ve said before that the last thing that the emerging sectarian conflict in the Middle East needs is more Pakistan. But as the conflagration grows and with a U.S security umbrella conspicuously absent, such an outcome grows more and more likely.